Trans queer UVic alumna named Rhodes Scholar

There’s getting a great education, and then there’s what you do with it. Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes scholar has big plans for both.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy is one of 11 young Canadians—the only one in BC—chosen for the prestigious scholarship, which provides two fully funded years of post-graduate studies at England’s Oxford University. Levy, a chemistry major, will begin a master’s degree there in fall 2023.

“Being chosen for this scholarship has been so unexpected. Everyone who I was up against in BC was incredibly brilliant—it could easily have been any of us,” says Levy, 24, who got to know the other provincial candidates at a dinner with Rhodes adjudicators in the run-up to selection earlier this month.

“I feel proud as the first trans queer woman in Canada to have been selected. However, I’m at the peak of every other privilege—white, supportive parents, grew up in a good home with financial stability. Right now, you often need all those things going for you to succeed as a trans person in these types of competitions. I hope I’m the outlier of what will one day be a normal thing for trans people regardless of their backgrounds.”

— Julia Levy

The Rhodes scholarship key criteria include academic excellence, demonstrated courage and devotion to duty, and moral force of character.

“Julia has had an amazing journey at UVic and is one of the most talented chemists our department has developed. Her passion for science and her drive to make the world a better place is an inspiration to everyone who is lucky enough to know her. She has a brilliant future and I’m so excited to see all the great things she accomplishes,” says Jeremy Wulff, a UVic chemistry professor who supervised Levy.

Including Levy, 12 UVic students have been named Rhodes scholars.

At the intersection of art and chemistry

Levy’s many achievements at UVic and in her community clearly caught the eye of the Rhodes selection committee. Having graduated with a major in chemistry and a minor in visual arts, Levy actively works to bring those two disciplines together in ways that benefit people.

“Julia is a dedicated artist who is continually pushing the bounds of the discipline,” says Visual Arts professor Paul Walde. “Always questioning and probing the limits of what’s possible, her creativity and drive for excellence makes her an excellent candidate for this prestigious award.”

In her second year at UVic, she invented a virtual reality program to help struggling chemistry students visualize molecules better, and went on to develop an augmented-reality phone app for visualizing complex shapes that is now featured in UVic chemistry workbooks.

Work by Julia Levy

The art of observation

Intrigued by how she could use art in ways that illuminated the experiences of being trans, Levy created a participatory art installation to evoke in viewers the same uneasy sense of being watched that trans people experience as part of their daily lives.

She invited viewers to enter what appeared to be a private space with a camera and video screen, where they saw a view of themselves from the back. Some seized the rare angle to check out how they looked from behind, or to fix their hair—only to discover upon exiting the room that their actions had been witnessed by everyone in the larger room.

Levy also served on UVic’s equity and diversity committee and was active in the ongoing campaign to retrofit university washrooms into non-gendered spaces.

“I’m a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of all the projects I was involved in at UVic,” jokes Levy. “I’m a big believer in never being just one thing. I’m a trans woman, but I’m also a scientist. I’m an artist, but I’m also an activist.”

Levy’s research focus reflects a key UVic impact area of technology and the human experience, and the university’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Empower people

“My biggest interest in everything I do is to lift people up. As a trans queer woman, I know what it is to be at the bottom, to be ‘othered.’ I feel that this Rhodes scholarship is such an opportunity to amplify my voice on the issues that really matter to me.”

Levy’s extensive community work includes volunteering with the local Gender Generations Project for trans youth and their families. The project’s twice-yearly gatherings bring youth together with trans adult mentors—so important to young people as reminders that “things do get better,” says Levy.

Levy also worked with UVic’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, applying her chemistry skills for public good.

The project offers a drop-in service in a downtown Victoria storefront where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis. That’s a life-saving initiative in light of poisoned illicit drugs having killed 10,000 British Columbians in the last seven years. “It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” says Levy.

Levy says she was “very lucky to have grown up surrounded by lesbians” who gave her the confidence to set her own standards for the kind of woman she is. She cites a number of professors as integral to her academic growth—UVic chemists Peter Wan, Wulff and Scott McIndoe, Lindsay Herriot from the School of Child and Youth Care, and cross-disciplinary researcher David Glowacki from the University of Bristol, whom she worked with on virtual reality.

Some of the most influential people in her academic growth were teaching assistants, co-workers and project supervisors, she adds.

She expects to study computational chemistry at Oxford, perhaps with a focus on digital education or health. She’s also drawn to the idea of getting a medical degree that could one day put her on the front lines of helping trans youth access better health care. The Rhodes scholarship covers two years of study with the possibility of two more.

Levy was already part of the UVic community when she transitioned three years ago, which spared her the experience of “the trans foot being the first one you have to put forward” when in an unfamiliar space. That will not be the case at Oxford.

“I’m interested to see how that will go,” says Levy. “But I know from my own life that whenever I see that trans women have achieved something new, it gives me the assurance that things are moving forward. If getting the Rhodes scholarship amplifies my voice, this is going to be such an opportunity to speak truth to power.”

—Jody Paterson

This story originally appeared on the UVic News site on Nov 28, 2022

New photo lab develops student skills

Thanks to cell phones, we live in an era where everyone has a camera in their pocket—but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is a photographer.

“I keep having this conversation with students as photography evolves and becomes more ubiquitous,” says Laura Dutton, an assistant teaching professor in photography with our Visual Arts department.

“We’re all used to seeing photos on digital screens, but we really want to place emphasis on the photograph as fine art. The way photography can comment is extremely important in the world of contemporary art.”

Time for an upgrade

With over 150 photography students and nine separate photo-based courses, Visual Arts decided it was past time to upgrade their facilities: the new photography finishing lab is the result of a 15-month, $300,000 renovation funded by UVic’s Capital Projects.

It includes a wide range of technology and donor-funded equipment, including a large-format print, laminator, negative scanner, projector, lighting, computer stations, custom tables and a 50-foot magnetic wall for showing work.

“The room was really lacking functionality before, but now we have a sophisticated and professional space,” says Dutton. She also notes that the new lab and equipment will help students develop new skills in their own photography practice that will transfer to art-related employment opportunities.

“The completed project is providing students with an exceptional learning and making space,” says Visual Arts chair Cedric Bomford. “The excitement to get into the room and use this equipment is exciting. It’s been a real bright spot in a challenging year for students and faculty alike.”

Learning With Others: Karla Point

When it came time to hire a new Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator (IRC) for the Faculty of Fine Arts, we didn’t have to look very far: just down the Ring Road to the Faculty of Law, in fact. 

Karla Point—whose traditional Nuu chah nulth name is Hii nulth tsa kaa—is now the second person to hold this position, following Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde (currently pursuing her PhD with our Theatre department). Part of the Hesquiaht First Nation, she is a life-long learner with strong ties to UVic thanks to both her BA (Humanities, 2003) and LL.B (Law, 2006). Karla was previously the cultural support liaison with UVic Law. 

“When I read the description for this job, I thought, ‘This is me—this is where I belong’,” she says. “The idea of sharing knowledge, learning with others and working with artistic people really appeals to me.”

Engaging her creative license

In addition to her position with the Faculty of Law, Karla has been a reconciliation agreement coordinator with the Sts’ailes Nation, a First Nations program coordinator with Parks Canada, and a treaty negotiator and elected councillor for the Hesquiaht First Nation

“I know I can do something for this job, but this job can also do something for me,” she says. “It’s such a huge contrast to the law—law is so set, but here you’re encouraged to have creative license. There’s so much we can share and collaborate on to ultimately come up with a model that’s a blend of Western and Indigenous knowledge.”

Exploring resurgence initiatives

As the IRC, Karla will support and guide Fine Arts on ways to decolonize existing curriculum and methodologies, incorporate Indigenous perspectives and pedagogies into our curriculum, and develop and implement a variety of resurgence initiatives—including outreach to local communities and student recruitment.

“When I thought about all the different jobs I’ve had and the different people I’ve worked with, I felt like I had what it took to indigenize a curriculum,” she says. “To do a good job, it has to be really collaborative . . . if everyone starts at the beginning together, then we know what the journey is—and it will be successful and well-received.”

Education as a healing journey

Karla will work with university staff, faculty and students while consulting with Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community partners, ensuring her work as the IRC aligns with Indigenous community aspirations for post-secondary education—a topic close to her own heart.

“I’ve had a really hard time with education . . . school and institutionalized education was always a real struggle,” she admits. “But when I went to college, I really appreciated the world of knowledge.”

After attending the Christie Indian Residential School on Meares Island for 15 months in the 1960s, Karla’s parents withdrew her and her brothers; she then attended 25 public schools in 10 different towns, but never graduated from grade 12. “My parents were residential school survivors who were always looking for the geographic cure,” she explains. “They never found it.”

Her own journey to post-secondary began as an adult at Camosun College, eventually culminating in both a diploma and her UVic degrees. “While I was on my educational journey, I was also on my healing journey.”

Welcoming “Auntie Karla”

The mother of three children and grandmother to nine, Karla looks forward to building relationships with the Fine Arts community. “Even though I’m here to develop resurgence initiatives and help Indigenous students, I don’t discriminate: I’ll help any student who comes through the door,” she says. “When I was a cultural support liaison with Law, I was ‘Auntie Karla’ for the Law students—so I’d love to be Auntie Karla for all the Fine Arts students.”

After spending the summer familiarizing herself with the new position and the Faculty in general, Karla will be ready for the return of students in September.

“I’m really excited about this position and feel very welcomed,” she says. “I think I’m going to enjoy it here.”

In Memoriam: Dr. Anthony Welch

It is with great sadness we mark the passing of Dr. Anthony Welch, noted art historian, scholar and academic leader. Dr. Welch had a long and distinguished career at the University of Victoria, beginning in 1971 as a lecturer with the Department of History in Art (now Art History & Visual Studies) and progressing to full professor in 1980. Dr. Welch also served as Associate Dean (1982-1985) before becoming the longest-serving Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts for a remarkable 13 years (1985-1998).

Accomplished dean

As author Ian MacPherson noted in his history of UVic, Reaching Outward and Upward, “Under the leadership of the Dean of Fine Arts, Anthony Welch, the faculty enjoyed remarkable success. Each of its schools — Visual Arts, Theatre, Music, Writing and History in Art — flourished; each possessed faculty members with international accomplishments and excellent reputations as teachers.”

Indeed, a number of professors who came to be synonymous with UVic were added under Dr. Welch’s leadership, including Canadian arts icon Mavor Moore, conductor János Sándor, poet Lorna Crozier and the Lafayette String Quartet.

“Tony’s contribution to the university, the faculty and the department was a major one,” recalls professor emeritus Martin Segger, a longtime colleague and close friend who first met Dr. Welch in 1971 when they were both young academics. “Tony was a serious and dedicated scholar but he loved teaching. His passion for the arts of Islam was infectious.”

Remarkable scholar

Among his many accomplishments as Dean, Dr. Welch established the Orion Artists-in-Residence in Asia program, pioneered the establishment of what would become the Studios for Integrated Media as well as interdisciplinary programs in film studies and cultural resource management, and helmed the expansion of the Fine Arts complex with the construction of both the Visual Arts and Fine Arts buildings. He later worked as the first executive director of the Office of International Affairs, was on the board of directors for UVic’s Innovation and Development Corporation, and was Vice President of the board of the McPherson Foundation.

Dr. Welch was a remarkable scholar, who was equally at home studying architecture, epigraphy and the arts of the Islamic book. His areas of specialism encompassed Iranian painting, Mughal painting in India, Islamic calligraphy and Sultanate architecture in medieval India. He was the author of several books, including Shah ‘Abbas and the Arts of Isfahan, Artists for the Shah: Late Sixteenth Century Painting at the Imperial Court of Iran and, with Stuart Carey Welch, Arts of the Islamic Book: The Collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. He was also a visiting professor at the universities of Minnesota, Washington and Chicago.

Committed to teaching

Throughout his career he remained committed to teaching, particularly enjoying the supervision of graduate students—many of whom went on to have successful careers as teachers or curators of Islamic art in North America, Europe, and Asia.

“Tony took his student papers very seriously and spent hours reviewing them and in the individual conversations that resulted,” recalls Segger. “He earned the admiration and respect of several generations of students whom he mentored through both undergraduate and graduate studies.”

Dr. Welch’s generosity, kindness and gentle humour will be deeply missed by all of those who worked with him during his long and illustrious career.

Tony Welch with AHVS graduate student Fahime Ghorbani in 2015

$1.875M gift supports environmental and climate journalism

The threat of climate change is the most perilous of our time—especially at the beginning of this new decade, which has been frequently identified as the most crucial for preventing catastrophic consequences. Now, one concerned individual is personally addressing that threat with an inspiring gift of $1.875 million to the University of Victoria in support of the Wayne Crookes Professorship in Environmental and Climate Journalism.

The donation from Vancouver business leader and political activist Wayne Crookes includes both the $1.5 million professorship and a separate $375,000 fund to focus on environmental and climate journalism research and outreach. The new professor—to be appointed later this year within UVic’s Department of Writing—will help mentor the next generation of climate correspondents and writers.

“Wayne Crookes’ support of environmental and climate journalism echoes UVic’s deep conviction to help address the challenges posed by climate change,” says UVic President Kevin Hall. “Extreme weather, melting ice sheets, incessant flooding and other alarming events serve to remind us that we are not only together in this crisis, but also of the urgent need to effectively counter misinformation through the rigour of credible journalism. Actions like Wayne’s will carry us into a better future.”

 

Wayne Crookes (photo: Martin Roland)

A former federal Green Party campaign manager and political campaigner, Crookes is the owner and founder of West Coast Title Search Ltd. and the founder of Integrity British Columbia. He sees this donation as a way of increasing the quantity, quality, depth and prominence of science-based environmental journalism and media coverage to address the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Action needed now

“This is a very important priority for me,” says Crookes. “We need to communicate more effectively with journalists—especially editors—about the risks of climate change and the threats to biodiversity that humanity as a whole is facing. I believe climate change is an existential threat that the world is not doing enough to meet.”

Crookes’ gift will increase media literacy and coverage by connecting students, journalists, citizens and policymakers through a public database of environmental scientists and climatologists, as well as strengthen UVic’s journalism and publishing program. It will support research and outreach to enable the professorship to catalyze a variety of community-based research projects, advocacy initiatives and educational activities for maximum impact.

“People recognizing the problem is the most important step in it being dealt with and being solved,” Crookes adds. “To do that, public opinion needs to change, and that can most efficiently be changed by increasing—and having a higher quality of—media coverage.”

A commitment to sustainability

“We share Mr. Crookes’ profound commitment to sustainability and believe that training journalists and artists who can communicate in ways that inform, persuade and inspire the public and political leaders is an urgent priority,” says Allana Lindgren, acting dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. “Environmental journalism is a growing emphasis in UVic’s Department of Writing, and many of our graduates pursue careers investigating and advocating for solutions to global environmental issues.”

As one of Canada’s leading research universities, UVic produces internationally acclaimed research on climate modelling, climate-change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable energy systems and the human dimensions of climate change.

Applications for the new five-year professorship are now open. Information can be found on the Writing department’s website.

A living legacy of jazz & blues

Throughout 2019, music fans enjoyed a series of monthly concerts featuring local musicians all with one purpose: raising funds for a scholarship for future School of Music jazz students. 

Organized by local jazz writer Joe Blake, the “Blues for Eric” concert series honoured the memory of Eric LeBlanc, UVic’s iconic CFUV disc jockey whose Let The Good Times Roll radio and online blues show ran for 33 years prior to his passing in 2015. His collection of thousands of blues, gospel, R&B and jazz recordings was donated to CFUV and his library of over 300 music-related books was donated to UVic’s Library.

Blake then established the $25,000 Eric LeBlanc Memorial Scholarship endowment fund and financed it with a series of 10 concerts, culminating in a sold-out public performance by Music professor Patrick Boyle the UVic Jazz Ensemble—including students (from left) Devin Owpaluk, Ethan Slogotski & Brendan Wong (photo: Leon Fei).  

“Eric’s love of the blues began during his boyhood in Montreal: he and his brother would travel to New York City to buy obscure recordings to play at their Montreal dance club and later on his first radio show at McGill,” says Blake, seen here with Boyle at the final concert (photo: Leon Fei). 

“He would have loved Boyle and his students’ smart, soulful jazz performances. And the students who will benefit from the scholarship played at the last Blues for Eric celebration. Now that’s cool!”